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James Foley (MSJ08) honored at campus memorial

EVANSTON, Ill -- Northwestern University held a public memorial service for alumnus James Foley, a committed journalist who devoted his life to exposing the turmoil and suffering of those living in dangerous, war-ravaged countries.

Foley’s mother, Diane Foley, and his grandmother, Olga Wright, attended the memorial, which was held on Thursday, Nov. 20, at 4 p.m. in Alice Millar Chapel (1870 Sheridan Road) on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. The service planned by University Chaplain the Rev. Timothy Stevens, Chaplain and Director of Northwestern’s Sheil Catholic Center the Rev. Kevin Feeney and the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. 

“This event provided an opportunity for Medill and Northwestern and the larger community to gather in reflection about Jim’s life,” said Medill Dean Bradley Hamm. “We are honored that his relatives joined us.”

Foley, who earned his master’s degree from Medill in 2008, was killed on Aug. 19 by extremists in the Middle East after being held hostage and imprisoned for nearly two years. He was captured while reporting for the online publication, GlobalPost, in November 2012 in Syria near the border of Turkey.

A New Hampshire native, Foley worked as a teacher after attending Marquette University. He was in his thirties when he came to Medill to pursue his master’s degree.

But from the moment Foley arrived at Medill’s Washington program, it was clear he wanted to be a war correspondent, said one of his former teachers, Ellen Shearer, William F. Thomas Professor at Medill and interim director of Medill’s Washington program, who will speak at the memorial service. “He focused on national security because he wanted to tell the stories of the people those policies affect -- service members, the people of the countries we send troops to and Americans who foot the bill.”

Foley’s 2012 disappearance was the second time he had been kidnapped. The previous year, he had been captured in Libya and held for 44 days in a Libyan prison. Just two weeks after his release, Foley visited Medill and spoke to students about his experiences in captivity and his previous reporting in Afghanistan.

“Every day I want to go back,” he told the students. “I’m drawn to the front lines.”

Foley is remembered by friends, family and colleagues as a fearless journalist who made friends easily and cared deeply about the marginalized in society. While studying at Northwestern, Foley worked as a language arts teacher at the Cook County’s sheriff’s boot camp, an alternative to prison.

“There was infinitely more to Jim Foley than we at Medill were privileged to share when he was a student or when he returned regularly by Skype or in person to brief students on the perils and personal calling of reporting on the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria,” said Medill professor Jack Doppelt, one of Foley’s teachers.

“When I think about Jim, I think about what it means to care intensely about understanding people and bringing that understanding to others.”

Since his death, Foley’s life has been commemorated with a mural in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood where he had once lived. The image depicts one of his last days working in Syria in 2012. His family has created the James Foley Legacy Fund to support issues he cared deeply about.

Several other services have already been held. Last month, more than 1,000 people filled a New Hampshire church to remember Foley on what would have been his 41st birthday.